Thursday, 22 August 2019

A Very Special Bridesmaid Dress

I have got a very special project to share with you today. My bridesmaid dress for my Mum's wedding back in May. I was really excited about making it, but knew it could turn into quite a stressful project and a real sewing challenge. It was a big deadline to meet and I knew because of my work schedule I was going to have very limited time to put towards it. So, as much as I would have liked to make a complex and challenging gown, I kept the design and construction simple and focused instead on finding some really beautiful fabric.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Beaded Silver Bridesmaid Dress - BHL Elisalex Dress & Emmeline Tee

Mum had only a few requests. That all three of us bridesmaids (my sister, step-sister and I) wore floor length dresses and that they were a neutral colour (in the end we all ended up in shades of grey, Mum's favourite!). Once my sister had bought her dress Mum also asked if we could all have some beading on the bodice too. I slightly panicked as that meant my simple project was likely to get considerably more involved and complicated!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Beaded Silver Bridesmaid Dress - BHL Elisalex Dress & Emmeline Tee

However, I managed to stop the beading from becoming too time consuming by constructing that part entirely separately to the main dress. I could have underlined the beaded chiffon with the crepe backed satin and sewn up those pieces into a fitted bodice but that would have involved unpicking all the beads from around the seam line/seam allowances and then sewing some back on to fill in any gaps after construction. Much too fiddly for this time-poor seamstress! To save unpicking and hand sewing any beads I assembled the whole top by hand. This may sound equally time consuming but there weren't too many seams and I thoroughly enjoyed a morning of hand sewing at my kitchen table!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Beaded Silver Bridesmaid Dress - BHL Elisalex Dress & Emmeline Tee

I used The Little Tailoress Emmeline Tee pattern for the beaded top. I've made this previously and really like the clean lines and easy to wear style. I used view 3 which has very small grown on sleeves, rather than the raglan or cuffed sleeve. As I hadn't made this version before and I wanted it to fit quite neatly but still pull on over the head I made a quick muslin to check the size. I used a remnant of some lovely blush heavy viscose from Fabrics Galore that I had in my stash and now wear the muslin all the time!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Beaded Silver Bridesmaid Dress - BHL Elisalex Dress & Emmeline Tee

Having the muslin was really useful as I could put it on over the dress once that was made to check how it sat over the bodice and also get the length of the top just right. I wanted the hem to sit right on the waistline of the dress. I didn't want the waist seam to show but I thought hitting at the narrowest point of my body would be the most flattering. I toyed with the idea of keeping the centre back of the top open and fastening it at the nape with a single button and loop but I wasn't sure what the dress would look like peeking through that opening and had a feeling that everything might end up a little busy and messy at the back there.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Beaded Silver Bridesmaid Dress - BHL Elisalex Dress & Emmeline Tee

Keeping the back closed meant I only had the shoulder and side seams to sew, then the neckline, armholes and hem to finish. To assemble the seams I used a small backstitch and then hand overcast the seam allowances to finish them and caught them as delicately as possible to the shell at the same time. This is a technique I picked up in Claire Shaeffer's Couture Sewing Techniques; I love that book! I did the same to finish my hems and tried to keep my stitches as small and even as possible in case they showed through to the right side but they are happily pretty much invisible amongst the beading.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Beaded Silver Bridesmaid Dress - BHL Elisalex Dress & Emmeline Tee

The neckline is bound with bias binding in the original pattern instructions and I made up some slim binding in the fabric of the dress with the intention of finishing that way. However, when I laid it around the neckline it felt a little heavy alongside the chiffon and beading so I opted to just turn that edge under and hand finish it like the other hems. I made the neckline and armhole hems slim at 1/2" but used a full inch around the waist to give it a bit more weight.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Beaded Silver Bridesmaid Dress - BHL Elisalex Dress & Emmeline Tee

I spent a long time sampling and choosing fabric. I wanted my shade of grey to fit with the other dresses; to be different enough but not stand out. Lots of people said to us on the day that we must have spent ages finding the right shade of dress/fabric to compliment each other but actually we did it pretty much entirely independently! My step-sister lives in Paris so we didn't have the opportunity to see each other and our dresses in person before the day of the wedding! Mum got her dress first, then my sister and I did hold my fabric samples against both of theirs but took a guess at the shade of Laura's from a photo. Luckily I think they all work together beautifully.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Beaded Silver Bridesmaid Dress - BHL Elisalex Dress & Emmeline Tee

I knew the beading would be the trickiest thing to find (at least on a reasonable budget!) and I shopped around a lot before I found this little chiffon gem at Goldbrick Fabrics on Goldhawk Road. I loved that it wasn't too ostentatious and that the beading was delicate and fairly subtle. I originally sampled a paler colour of chiffon than this, although the beads were the same. But unfortunately when I went back to buy it they had none in stock. Goldbrick have pieces of all their fabrics hanging on racks which samples can be cut from from. Whilst I love that system for ease of browsing it has happened quite a few times that a fabric I've sampled they don't actually have in stock which is frustrating. Luckily this time it worked out for the best as I think I prefer this chiffon to the original.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Beaded Silver Bridesmaid Dress - BHL Elisalex Dress & Emmeline Tee

I thought the beaded fabric would be the star of the ensemble but in fact the fabric I used for the dress completely stole the show. It is an amazing crepe backed satin from Borovicks which I fell completely in love with after buying some in the wine colour for a dress for Sally Field in a show I costumed earlier in the year. It comes in a variety of colours and feels and looks like an expensive silk, for a fraction of the price! It has an amazing weight to it without compromising on the drape or movement and feels so luxurious against the skin. It is completely opaque and heavy enough not to require lining (a great time saver for me!) and is also washable (a good thing too as one of the waitresses managed to spill red wine on me!).

I almost used the matte crepe side of the fabric as the right side as it seemed a slightly better tonal match to the beaded chiffon and we had used the matte side for Sally's dress and it looked so rich and wonderful on stage. I'm so glad I didn't though and went the whole hog with satin on the outside! It felt so glamorous and that satin seems to glow. I don't feel like photos really do it justice as you need to see it move but the top photo when I'm walking gives you a good idea.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Beaded Silver Bridesmaid Dress - BHL Elisalex Dress & Emmeline Tee

I avoided any time consuming fitting problems and construction confusion by using a tried a tested bodice pattern. The By Hand London Elisalex. This is a classic princess seamed sleeveless bodice with scoop neckline. Having made this and many other princess seamed bodices before made the construction quite quick and simple. The fit on the finished bodice actually could be better but it is thankfully hidden by the top. I'm not sure if this is because my body shape has changed since I last made it years ago or that I am much more picky about my fitting nowadays! The only thing I'd really change though is to narrow the shoulders of the Elisalex bodice slightly as the neckline of the Emmeline is quite wide and as I moved around it would occasionally shift and the satin bodice would peek out of the neck. In hindsight I wonder if I would have been better using the BHL Kim bodice instead as this is a similar princess seamed shape but with a lower neckline with skinnier shoulder straps.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Beaded Silver Bridesmaid Dress - BHL Elisalex Dress & Emmeline Tee

I self lined the bodice rather than opting for a lining of a lighter weight to give it a bit more of a defined shape and structure without going as far as adding boning. I'm really pleased with my finishing and use of techniques like under stitching to get everything to sit just so. The matching of the waistline across the zip worked out spot on first time too!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Beaded Silver Bridesmaid Dress - BHL Elisalex Dress & Emmeline Tee

The skirt is a simple half circle skirt which I drafted from my measurements. I think a half circle is my favourite kind of skirt. I like the skim of the bias cut over the hips without the bulk of a gathered or pleated skirt around the waist. You get a nice dramatic swoosh with a half circle skirt too without being weighed down in fabric. Even doing a half rather than full circle made this full length dress quite the fabric eater! I think I had 3m and used the whole lot! I made the skirt as long as the fabric would allow and then hemmed it on my dress form once I'd left it to hang and drop for a couple of days. I chose the hem length when wearing the high sandals I'd be wearing on the day and opted to go a good inch or so off the floor to avoid a trip hazard - I was terrified of falling over as I walked down the aisle! I hand stitched the hem using a blind catch stitch to keep a clean finish on the right side.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Beaded Silver Bridesmaid Dress - BHL Elisalex Dress & Emmeline Tee

As well as enjoying the feeling of wearing a dress I had made myself in such gorgeous fabrics I felt SO comfortable in it all day. It was so nice to not have to feel self conscious or be aware of what I was wearing on a day like that and concentrate on just enjoying myself. The skirt was so great to swish around in and it held up to some fairly vigorous dancing too!! 

26 comments:

  1. beautiful dress and beautiful photos, the colors work so well together.

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    1. Thanks very much Beth, the highest of compliments coming from you! I was really delighted with the combination of fabrics and how the colours of all the dresses worked together

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  2. Stunning! I know you made it simple because of time constraints, but it also makes for such a chic, classic look. And those have got to be some of the most tasteful bride/bridesmaid outfits I've seen - they really co-ordinate beautifully without actually matching. Nice work, Fiona, and congratulations to your mum!

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    1. Thanks very much Nina, I think sometimes understated can actually be more dramatic given the right fabrics can't it! I'm really pleased I didn't try and do something more complex.
      And thanks for the lovely compliment on the whole wedding party, Mum was delighted with how it all turned out

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  3. Beautiful dress, you look very elegant and classy and you clearly did your Mum proud, as did your sister and step-sister too. Congratulations to your Mum and her new husband!

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    1. Ah thanks very much Helen! It was the most wonderful day

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  4. Your dress is beautiful and so elegant. And such attention to detail.

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    1. Thanks very much! I like to think through every aspect of a project before I start as I think all those little details can really make or break a garment!

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  5. You are the very epitome of elegant in this dress. I love the harmony of the different bridesmaids dresses. I am so impressed with your choices of clean lines and beautiful fabric. Your handstitching of the top resulted in a beautiful garment. I would never attempt to handstitch a whole garment and even my handstitched hems seem to fall down too soon, so you clearly have a talent there.

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    1. O thank you so much Katherine. I actually did feel very elegant in this dress, which is a rare occasion for me! I think it had a lot to do with the simplicity of it. Fussy just isn't me.
      I absolutely love hand-stitching! I find it so theraputic!

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  6. It's gorgeous! I'm so impressed; it looks shop-bought.

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    1. I was concerned about my dress looking right alongside the other shop bought dresses but I felt like I fit right in on the day! I was very proud

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  7. Beautiful choices and workmanship! Your outfit is stunning. Thanks for sharing your work on your blog!!

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    1. Thanks very much, I was really pleased with how it turned out

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  8. It's absolutely beautiful! It looks really amazing!

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    1. Thank you very much! I couldn't have been happier with it or have felt happier wearing it on the day!

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  9. This is wonderful! Congratulations on a lovely dress and day!

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  10. Just so beautiful, you all look very stylish and classy, congratulations. Sam the Aussie

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    1. Thanks very much Sam! I did feel classy for once in my life haha1

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  11. Lovely dress. Lovely wedding

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    1. Thanks very much Anne. It was the absolute best day

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  12. Absolutely gorgeous!! The pictures are so beautiful too!

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    1. Thanks Shirley! We're really happy with how the pictures came out, lovely to have some good photos of something I've made for a change!

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  13. I absolutely love your dress its beautiful and has inspired me to do something similar. I have a wedding to go to in October and have been turning my brain over with what to sew that would look special. I love the idea of the beaded top over the dress, I would never have thought of doing that but it looks great.

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    1. O go for it Angela! I was so happy with how the two elements worked together and am really excited about the possibility of wearing the beaded top separately. I hate making something and only getting to wear it once
      Enjoy the wedding!

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I love hearing from readers of my blog so please feel free to leave a comment letting me know what you thought about this post/make! Any hints or tips to improve my sewing are always much appreciated too!